An Arrangement in Black and White, written by Dorothy Parker, was first published in the June 1922 issue of The New Yorker. An Arrangement in Black and White is a satire on race relations at the turn of the twentieth century. It follows the story of an older black woman who is eagerly trying to become rich by becoming mixed with white blood so she could paint herself as white. Although there are many opinions about what Dorothy Parker’s An Arrangement In Black And White is truly about, it does not take away that An Arrangement In Black And White is indeed a satirical short story.
The main character of An Arrangement in Black and White, Mrs. Ellen Odom, decides to purchase bleaching cream off of a man named Mr. Gullickson for one thousand dollars to try and turn her black complexion white. The story describes Mrs. Ellen Odom as having “skin like an Egyptian mummy” (Parker). An Arrangement in Black and White appears to be portraying, at least through its title, that there were many people who had an “arrangement” with society regarding their skin color and the amount of money they would receive if they turned themselves white.
There is also some evidence towards this claim since An Arrangement In Black And White was published only four years after the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment which granted women universal suffrage. An Arrangement in Black and White also shows a common theme of the 1920s, as An Arrangement In Black And White is an example of a “New Negro” by having many black characters that were portrayed as middle class, intelligent and educated.
An Arrangement in Black and White showcases this through Mrs. Ellen Odom by having her state, “I am a New Negro, sir! I stand on my own feet! ” (Parker). An Arrangement In Black And White also shows how big of an issue skin bleaching was during the 1920s with the line from Mr. Gullickson saying, “And who’ll pay you to be white? That’s what I want to know” (Parker). An Arrangement In Black And White also makes a social commentary on skin bleaching as it shows the dangers of skin bleaching creams such as arsenic and mercury, which can lead to blood poisoning, neurological damage and even death.
An Arrangement In Black And White shows this with Mrs. Ellen Odom’s friend dying from using similar bleaching cream products. An Arrangement In Black And White does not only show this theme through death but also through Mrs. Ellen Odom herself as An Arrangement In Black and White describes her feet as smelling like “a dead rat under the porch floorboards” (Parker). An Arrangement In Black And White shows how society judges people with darker skin complexion by calling them names such as “a dead rat”.
An Arrangement In Black And White also shows society’s view on lighter skin complexion by describing it as having a “honey shine” (Parker) to it. An Arrangement In Black And White shows the importance of skin color during the 1920s with Mrs. Ellen Odom stating, “You don’t get me! I want white! ” (Parker). An Arrangement in Black and White also makes fun of African Americans through its portrayal of blacks who wanted to become more white after seeing whites discriminate against other people due to their skin color.
An Arrangement in Black and White portrays this with Mr. Gullickson saying, “Two years ago when I started out to be the whitest man in America, God knows I had no idea it would come to this! ” (Parker). An Arrangement In Black And White also shows how whites see blacks by believing that they are all one race when there are several types of ethnicities within the black category.
When Ruth goes to the party she does not want anything to do with the black musician. She is very offended when he wants to play for her in particular (1039). There, she comes up with an idea in her head that playing for her will make him more famous and therefore, he should be paying attention to her instead of someone who is white (1038-1040). “Why didn’t that fiddler let his violin screech like a peacock? Why did he keep holding it against his chin like that? ” (Parker 1050) This line shows us exactly how Ruth feels about this guy. He is being too good at his job and she is extremely repulsed by that.
An example of her ignorance is when she says, “It’s all right for a nigger to play the piano and sing and dance and what not – I shouldn’t mind watching one of them on the stage – but don’t let him come around where we are – I mean where white people are. Do you understand? ” (1041-1042). She starts off by saying it’s alright for a black person to do these things, but then she follows up with the fact that he should know his place. Then later at Ruth’s house, Ruth asks him if he knows “I Love You Truly” (1049), which is about how much one lover adores another.
Instead of singing it as a romantic song, she wants him to sing it as if he loathes the girl (1048). He does not comply and this makes her very angry (1049-1050). An example of her ignorance is when she says, “I want you to understand that I am not one who lightly gives my affection or my friendship” (1055). She may think she has good intentions for this guy and that they can be friends because he doesn’t seem like “the others” but in reality, at this point, all she’s been doing is treating him poorly.
In An Arrangement in Black and White, Dorothy Parker uses a satirical tone to criticize the typical attitudes towards race within America society. An example can be found at the beginning of this story when a character questions if African Americans are human. In response to the question, another character directly proclaims that African Americans are indeed human beings deserving of recognition as such. This exchange seems harmless enough on its own but later on in the story, it becomes clear how this offhanded comment is well-placed criticism about American society during the time period in which An Arrangement was set (the 1920s).
This may not have been her intention, but Dorothy Parker manages to expose racial inequalities through satire. An Arrangement in Black and White follows the story of Fanny, a white woman living in Harlem with her African American husband. This less than ideal life choice has put her at odds with the rest of society, who continue to confound her for marrying outside of her race.
An encounter between Fanny and one of these angry people is particularly telling about how they perceive African Americans as human beings deserving respect: [… ] ‘What’s an old white lady like you doing here? ‘ A woman had stopped beside me. For a minute I thought she was talking to me; then I realized it was my friend who had turned around. ” This statement shows that this angry woman views Fanny as irrelevant because she is old. An additional example comes later on when another angry character claims that “[… ] An elderly white lady with a Negro is a pretty sight. It must be a case of white slavery.
This statement suggests that the angry character believes African Americans to lack agency, and they are therefore all just pawns in some larger scheme by whites to keep them enslaved. An Arrangement in Black and White on the whole treats African Americans with respect while still maintaining lines of satirical dialog between its characters regarding race relations. In this way, Dorothy Parker was able to critique racial inequalities within America after the Civil War through An Arrangement without necessarily pointing fingers herself.